The Bible says the "mark of the beast" will be compelled on everyone globally. Does this leave people condemned forever, as most Christians understand the mark? A verse in Revelation 14 certainly seems to support this, but would that scenario be fair to people under the deception of Antichrist's "strong delusion" as Paul called it? Discover the true cost of accepting the Antichrist's mark, based on the consensus of Scripture, plus the passage that clearly shows some will survive the mark (and God's wrath) and be set free in the Millennium...
The Antichrist's "mark of the beast" is one of several disturbing prophecies in the Book of Revelation that actually lead many Christians to simply refuse to read the book altogether. I doubt most Christians see themselves ever taking the mark. Either they expect to be taken out in a fantastical "pretrib rapture" before it comes, or they think that if they are still here, they plan to employ Nancy Reagan's 80's anti-drug campaign strategy of "Just say 'no'" to the mark. (That won't work well as, unlike drugs, the mark will be promoted with torture.)
However, when it comes to our loved ones who we perceive to not be walking very close to God (or as close as we would like), it's a different situation. A major portion of the inquiries I receive from people relate to concerns about the present salvation or end time survival of a spouse, child, parent, sibling or friend. Here's a typical example:
Hi, Tim! ...I'm a bit unhappy at the moment...reading your article about the three resurrections had really made me feel happy. I was so relieved to hear that there will still be a chance for my parents, who died long ago, as well as for some other family and friends of mine. However, these past two days I've been struggling with this Bible passage (Rev 14:9-11):
Revelation 14:9-11 —"If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, 10 he, too, will drink of the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name"
Especially the words "forever and ever" and "no rest, day or night" scare the hell out of me. (Sorry for the pun.) And here is why: not only am I scared for my sister and my friends, I've also spoken about end time prophecy with my son....[whose] faith is not as strong as mine.... Can you give me some comfort or do you think it's true that he will suffer for eternity if he takes the mark of the beast? One thing I know for sure: I will never be able to enjoy my own glorified body and the eternal life that comes with it if my son is tortured day and night before my own eyes...
I'm sure many readers share similar concerns about loved ones taking the mark of the beast...or even also for themselves. When you read a passage like this, then it becomes even more real how final taking the mark seems to be, that it must be avoided at all costs.
How do we make sense of this? That passage seems pretty clear in describing continual torment forever for those with the mark...or does it?
All Take the Mark—Except God's "Elect"
In case you are not yet concerned about the mark, let me address a couple common Christian misconceptions mentioned above that lend themselves to this apathy about the mark of the beast.
Firstly, most Christians think they are going to be rescued in a "pretrib rapture." They generally believe this not because they proved it in their own Bible (which most have never read, let alone studied), but because A) this is what they were taught, B) most people believe this so it feels safe in the majority and C) it's what we all emotionally want to be true—no "beatings for Jesus' bride." However, the teaching of the Bible is that the rapture comes post-tribulation or pre-God's wrath at the "last trump" (Mt 24:29-31=2Th 2:3=1Co 15:52). So the saints will indeed be on earth when the mark is introduced.
Secondly, for some reason, some doubt that the mark is enforced everywhere. They think God will protect the saints wherever they are, in "pockets" of resistance despite the Antichrist. They miss how the Bible teaches that the Antichrist is quite successful at compelling almost everyone to take the mark, except for those "whose name is written in the book of life" (Rev 13:8). Note that any attempt to hide out from the mark will fail because the demonic locusts of Rev 9=Joel 2 break into every dwelling (Joel 2:9=Rev 9:3).
Who are these protected people named in the book of life? Other prophecies tell us that there are two categories of them. One group is clearly the 144,000 sealed with special "mobile protection" and sent throughout the Earth "preaching the Gospel as a witness" (Mt 24:14). The other group is called "The Woman" and sent on from Jerusalem to be protected in her "place in the wilderness," apparently located in modern day Jordan since Edom, Moab and Ammon are named in the Bible as the only places the Beast will not control:
Revelation 13:7-8,16-17 — 7 Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and tongue and nation, 8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, every one whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain. 16 And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: 17 And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
Daniel 11:41 — He shall enter also into the glorious land, and many countries shall be overthrown: but these shall escape out of his hand, even Edom, and Moab, and the chief of the children of Ammon..
Revelation 12:13-14,17 — 13 And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child. 14 And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. 17 And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ [i.e. The 144,000, c.f. Rev 14:12].
(See my book on Wormwood for more details on all this.)
"Even the Jews" Will Fight Christ At Jerusalem
Unfortunately, even Israel is unable to resist the Antichrist. Despite many following its national religion of Judaism, Israel is a secular nation with a mostly secular population like every other nation today. Because they abandoned God millennia ago, they do not receive an exemption from the Beast's deception (not counting those righteous individuals who come out from the nation).
In fact, Israel will be overrun by his armies first. The Antichrist takes control of Jerusalem to stop the sacrifices and setup the abomination (Mat 24:15 = Luke 21:20). This means that the State of Israel will ratify the Mark of the Beast as well. We are told that "even/also Judah" (which is the tribe who Israel today chiefly consists of) "will fight against Jerusalem" (Zech 14:14 RSV/ERV) with the rest of all the nations armies gathered there to oppose the arrival of the Messiah. This makes perfect sense if they, like all others, have been deceived by the Antichrist, to believe that he is the true god:
Zechariah 14:2-3, 14 (RSV) — 2 For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women ravished; half of the city shall go into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. 3 Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle... 14 even Judah will fight against Jerusalem. And the wealth of all the nations round about shall be collected, gold, silver, and garments in great abundance.
By the way, some people have trouble seeing Judah as a bad guy at Christ's return, fighting "against" Jerusalem/the LORD because most Bible versions do not help the reader out by saying Judah "fights against Jerusalem" (Zec 14:2,14 ERV) but say "fight at Jerusalem" (Zec 14:2, 14 NIV). However, "against" is a defensible choice because 1) all nations have the mark of the beast and are under his mind control and 2) Judah is included in "all nations" not excepted and 3) God fights against "those nations." Notice that Judah is not named in verse 14 as an exception as "(but not Judah!)" It's named as "also/even Judah." That's probably because it's so surprising that Judah fights the take-over of its capital city by the LORD.
"Depart From Me, I Never Knew you!" - Jesus
Jesus predicted that he will tell many sincere believers to basically "get lost" instead of welcoming them into the Kingdom. So...who are they and what did they miss or do wrong? In this study, get those answers and the one requirement for salvation Jesus taught (that Christianity misses) so that you can make sure you don't hear these dreaded words yourself!
Reason #1 That The Mark is Not Eternal Damnation
In summary, the bad news it that the mark of the beast goes worldwide, with the exception of tiny Jordan where the saints are gathered. The only good news is that the Great Tribulation lasts only 1260 days.
So what happens after that? What becomes of everyone?
If we keep reading in Zechariah, there is a curious passage answering that, one which helps us resolve our problem passage in Revelation 14:
Zechariah 14:16 (RSV) — Then every one that survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of booths.
Somehow, there will be "survivors" of the Great Tribulation even though their nations fought against Jerusalem/Christ! I doubt few Christians ever noticed this passage. But it's key and definitely problematic for the prevailing Christian concept about the finality of the mark of the beast because we already established above that anyone in all nations outside Jordan who are still alive had to accept the mark, or be beheaded (Rev 20:4).
Who are these people? If the people who go up to fight at Jerusalem are wiped out by the sword that comes out of Jesus' mouth (Rev 19:15), then these can only be the rest of the people of "all nations" who were unfit for battle. They therefore did not go up as part of the armies to fight against Messiah and die. Yet, we know they still had to have the mark of the beast.
Nevertheless, there is no indication that these people are eternally condemned for having the mark, as most Christians would expect. They are actually keeping God's festivals under the Messiah during the Millennium! If everyone who takes the mark is condemned and unredeemable, then why are they keeping up the charade of obeying God? Better yet, why are they not in the lake of fire with the demons who really are damned? This passage makes no sense if the mark is the "unpardonable sin" that most assume it to be.
Reason #2 That The Mark is Not Eternal Damnation
When we see clear evidence elsewhere in Scripture that contradicts how we understood a passage that seemed "clear and simple enough" before, it's time to go back to it and see if we missed anything. At these times, it's very helpful to bear in mind that God on purpose throws curve balls in the Bible to hide the meaning from the majority, especially when it comes to the "mysteries of the kingdom" (Mt 13:10-13). God made the Bible hard on purpose and it is to the glory of kings (which we will be in the future) to search it out (Pr 25:2). He's testing our persistence and forcing us to exercise our brains if we want the truth.
Challenge accepted =)... so, let's look again:
Revelation 14:9-11 — 9 ...If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark... 10 The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God...and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: 11 And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night...
Firstly, let's understand the context to this passage: the wrath of God. What is that? We know from Revelation 15-16 that right after the end of the tribulation and rapture, the seven bowls of the wrath of God begin (lasting ten days). This matches the fire and brimstone mentioned since the Sun goes seven times hotter and 100 pound hailstones fall on people, etc.. So for this limited time period of God's wrath, those who took the mark (outside the Woman's protected place in Jordan) will be tormented and literally unable to catch a break or a wink of sleep, let alone basic rest.
Secondly, it's crucial to note that it never says that "the torment lasts forever." What it says is that the "smoke of the torment ascends forever." That should cause you to pause because, according to basic physics, smoke does not rise forever. It eventually cools and dissipates. As you pause to think, you may perceive that perhaps this passage is not meant literally at all (breaking the laws of physics) but is an idiomatic expression or idiom. An idiom is a figure of speech not meant literally, such as "It's raining cats and dogs."
If you then do a basic cross reference check on this passage, you will be rewarded. Isaiah uses a similar phrase to describe the judgment on Edom:
Isaiah 34:9-10 — 9 And the streams of Edom shall be turned into pitch, and her soil into sulfur; her land shall become burning pitch. 10 Night and day it shall not be quenched; its smoke shall go up forever. From generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it forever and ever.
Notice the parallels to Revelation with the "day and night" and "smoke rising forever" language? We know from history that Edom was destroyed. It's safe to say that there is no eternal, smoking fire still burning in modern day Jordan for thousands of years now. If there were, it would be on the news or social media by now how firefighters are unable to put out this strange eternal smoking fire. Common sense dictates that this must not be meant literally but is a figurative idiom in the biblical Hebrew.
That the church fathers say Revelation was written in Hebrew would help explain why the writer of Revelation might use an existing construct in prophetic language to emphasize how bad the judgment will be on those with the mark. Edom was judged harshly by fire and the kingdom of the Antichrist will likewise be judged harshly by fire. That's the point here, not that there's a magical fire that burns forever nor smoke that rises forever.
Taking the Mark: Worst Part? Missing the Rapture
To recap again, taking the mark of the beast does not bring a penalty of "eternal punishment day and night forever." It results in ten days of torment that end when Jesus returns. That's actually punishment #2.
However, at the start of those ten days is the rapture and the resurrection of the "dead in Christ" (Rev 20:5). If you are sporting the mark of the beast, you definitely are not saved and not taken up in the rapture. You are passed over and left on earth to suffer God's wrath. Missing the rapture to the kingdom of God is punishment #1. That's really the worst part of taking the mark, watching the rapture happen and pass you by and then during the Millennium being reminded of your failure as those who were raptured and glorified are telling you what to do. (That might smart for longer than ten days for a lot of people.)
In fact, missing out on the rapture is why the next verses in Revelation strangely say, "blessed are the dead" in the context of the mark of the beast punishment:
Revelation 14:12-13 (NIV) - 12 This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God's commandments and remain faithful to Jesus. 13 Then I heard a voice from heaven say, "Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Yes," says the Spirit, "they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them."
If you have the patience to accept dying as a martyr instead of taking the mark, your works will follow you, meaning reward you (Rev 20:12). You'll make the rapture (although technically in the first resurrection that comes right before the rapture).
But, few will choose martyrdom for obvious reasons. By all accounts, the whole world will be coerced into taking the mark in exchange for being able to stop the locust torture and to feed themselves and their family. Not only will they be hungry from the famine left in the wake of Planet Wormwood but they will literally be deceived with signs and wonders into believing that God himself is sitting on the throne in the Third Temple at Jerusalem (2Th 2:4). We're told that only the "very elect" will see through this "strong delusion" (2Th 2:11).
This brings us full circle. If the Antichrist is so deceptive that most believe he is God and accept his mark, how could a loving and fair God punish them forever...for being "tricked?" Think of how many pretrib-rapture-indoctrinated Christians will justify accepting the mark with good intentions like, "If this was the mark of the beast, we wouldn't be here!" or "I'm doing this to feed my family like God expects me to" (See 1Ti 5:8 KJV).
As for me, I'm convinced Revelation 14 does not teach God eternally torments tricked, deceived or ignorant people, although they do pay a limited price for their apathy, choices, and sins, reaping what they sow—to a reasonable extent.
Objection: "Shame On You For Encouraging The Mark!"
When some Christians read the teaching above, they get upset. They object along the following lines:
You are lessening the consequence of receiving the Mark of the Beast. This is 'removing, taking away' from the Book of Revelation. If not for anything else, at least I ask you not to continue this teaching that clearly violates the teaching of the Book of Revelation, considering the grave consequence this could have on people's soul.
Shame on you for sending out the deceit of being able to receive the mark and not be damned! Think about it, if you really are a Christian, which now after you making that statement, you probably aren't, but if you are, and someone receives the mark based upon your article, how in Jesus' Name will you address that to God?
How do I respond to these accusations?
I realize that the above is a radical teaching, one that deviates from Christian tradition. As such, these Christians are feeling outrage at hearing it taught that God's punishment of a sin is not as harsh as they understood. It must sound like a watering down of God's judgment, like I'm soft on sin or even "denying the plain, clear word of God!" Christian evangelism depends heavily on frightening the unsaved with the threat of "eternal torment" to get them saved. How can they motivate unbelievers if you take that leverage away? Besides, "why would anyone do that unless they simply don't care about saving people?" Further, "what about all the people who listen to Tim McHyde and take the mark of the beast because of it?!"
To address the last point first, I don't know how anyone would perceive my teaching about the true Biblical dangers of the mark of the beast...as an "endorsement of the mark." But even if strangely someone did, God has that covered! In fact, he has all the many misunderstandings that Christians teach on eschatology (including the pretrib rapture) covered. Prophecy tells us Elijah is coming to set things straight and restore all things, and his reach will be global in all nations to lead people to repent (Mt 24:14). Yet more specifically, another prophecy says that right before the mark of the beast arrives, there will be another warning message delivered to the entire earth saying... wait for it...
"DON'T TAKE THE MARK OF THE BEAST or you will suffer the fiery wrath of God with such torment that you have no rest day or night!" (Rev 14:9–11, paraphrased).
This is the very passage we've been focusing on in this article. It says exactly what my teaching is above, "don't take the mark or you will face the fire," will go out to the world through God's prophetic channels (starting with an angel). No one will be able to miss it. People will hear good reasons for not taking the mark; not just suffering God's wrath (most likely resulting in your death, which is bad enough), but also missing the rapture. Even if you approve of Jesus and his teachings on love, he'll still tell you "depart from me I never knew you" (Mt 7:21-23). Isn't all of that enough of a deterrent to taking the mark?
God: Bad News or Good News?
As you can probably already surmise, not only do I disagree with the Christian concept that Revelation 14 teaches that God punishes the wicked with "eternal torment," I also disagree that any other verse teaches this concept, also known as the Christian teaching of "going to hell." I do not see this teaching in the Bible. Moreover, I do not find a way to harmonize that doctrine with a fair and loving God.
That said, I do not judge Christians who disagree with me or who never question the Christian doctrine of hell. Some verses certainly seem to support it (without careful, diligent, prayerful study). Christian religious leaders are assumed to know more than lay Christians do and to do the Bible interpretation better than they ever could. Most also never imagine that Jesus' warning about "many coming in my name saying I am Christ and deceiving many" could possibly apply to them or to the many Christians (Mt 24:4-5). Simply put, it's not easy to find the truth today and most are not equipped to do it.
Yet, I wonder if the Christians who never question hell are not lacking something that the woman I quoted at the start of the article had? Like her, they are not so worried about their own salvation or going to hell personally. But unlike her, they may not have a close loved one whose salvation they are deeply concerned about to provoke them to think and pray long over them being in hell. I doubt they ever considered that if that loved one did not get "right with God," how they would have to watch them "suffer in hell" for eternity, like she did. I doubt they have considered whether they could enjoy eternity (or serve God) knowing that this horror was happening in the background, like she did. It's so easy to be distracted from these issues or to immediately put such uncomfortable thoughts out of our mind when they appear, or to simply say, "they had/made their choice to be wicked, they have no excuse because look at me, I did it, I chose differently, so anyone could do it, too..." All this makes it easy to continue on for decades believing a false doctrine, even if it makes God out to be "...the most unpleasant character in all fiction" (—Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion).
Thankfully, the Bible (properly interpreted without prejudice or religious bias—no small feat!) teaches a different God, one who is fair, not capricious nor a sadist, and who wishes the best for us. He does not enjoy seeing us suffer or having curses (Dt 5:29=John 10:10) although he knows best that these things are necessary for our training (Heb 5:7-9). God will not sentence deceived (Rev 12:9), ignorant (Mt 9:36) humans to eternal torment. They will suffer enough by realizing later that they missed out on salvation in the first go round (Lk 13:28) and by also losing their physical life after great pain (most likely). After that, he'll raise them up and give them another chance at life—this time with the deception and ignorance issues addressed and resolved (Rev 20:10, Hab 2:14).
Those who are righteous now when it's super hard, will have not only God's present help, but also a greater reward with Christ. In this way, God is fair and good to both the wicked and the just, both now and later, rewarding both "according to their works" (Mt 5:45). That, truly, is good news and reflects a truly good God. (Compare that to the so-called "good news" of Christian evangelists delivered to the unsaved: "Hello. You are a sinner destined for eternal hell torment unless you accept Jesus!" That's not good news. That's bad news about life and reflects poorly on the God who supposedly designed all this to be so unfair.)
That's how I see it and I share it for your consideration for what it's worth.
Finally, regarding the accusation in the second quotation above that suggested I'm "not a Christian:" I must agree that if I don't follow Christian tradition, but follow what I see in the Word of God, I don't exactly qualify as a Christian. But when did Jesus say our goal was to be a Christian, or accepted by Christians? Jesus talked about being his brother or family (Lk 8:21) and that's what I hope I qualify for by my choice to follow God's Word directly and not tradition or religion (Mt 5:20=Lk 8:21).
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Tim is the author of this site (since 1999) and the book Know the Future that explains Revelation literally at last--including the key event of Wormwood (Rev 6-8). To read more from Tim and not miss a single new article, sign up for his free newsletter above.